The Meaning of Cat Intelligence
There is a running debate among dog and cat owners on which animal is the smarter. Dog owners proclaim
their pets can learn tricks and therefore have the more superior intellect. Cat owners boast that their
pets are too intelligent to do some arbitrary task for someone else’s amusement. Cats aren’t like dogs.
They are motivated by different things. Dogs are pack animals that need to please the dominant canine
(or human) in order to stay as a member of the pack. Being a part of a pack is crucial to a dog’s
survival. Cats are solitary animals that rely only on themselves to survive. Cats need to please no one.
What is intelligence?
Intelligence is comprised of several things: the ability to manipulate one’s environment; the capacity
to acquire and apply knowledge; the ability to adapt that knowledge to new situations. Animal intelligence
is based on the animal's natural environment and its survival needs. Humans are biased in assessing the
intelligence of other species. They tend to rate those animals that are similar to us in sight and
dexterity, or those that will perform a useful task for humans as the most intelligent. Those animals that
are not as cooperative don’t rate as well.
Some people argue dogs are smarter because a human can train them to guard, hunt, assist, and perform
obedience tasks. These activities take advantage of the natural social behaviors of the dogs in their
packs. Dogs have been selectively bred over hundreds of years to enhance some of these behaviors and
reduce or eliminate others.
Cats can be motivated to cooperate with the offering of food. However, this doesn’t always work. In the
wild, a cat will wait patiently to catch its prey. But if there is too much hard work involved, the cat
will give up and find an easier meal. Cats won’t waste more energy hunting and catching the prey than it
takes to eat it. Cats are opportunists. Instead of rushing to the end of a maze to collect the food
reward, cats will investigate every corner and blind alley to see if prey is hiding. Unlike dogs that have
been bred for utility, cats have been bred only for appearance.
Cats are definitely intelligent. They are able to go beyond their innate behaviors and learn things that
nature did not foresee. Many can open doors, wait for alarm clocks, come on command, master cat flaps,
and even learn tricks. They have a tenacity to do things over and over until they accomplish what they
set out to do. It’s this tenacity that causes them to get into trouble. The more mischief a cat gets
into, the more intelligent the cat.